Three Answers to Your Top Questions About Voice Listening

Dani Proffitt

What role does “voice listening” play in the marketing equation? With so much misinformation, smartphone “conspiracy theories” brings up real concern, including the privacy of personal information and the effect that marketing has on the behaviors of vulnerable demographics. Here are answers to three of the most important questions about voice listening.

Smartphones and other mobile devices are used by consumers for convenience, connection, and leisure. In turn, these devices have become essential tools for marketers to deliver the most relevant ads to the right people. However, consumers and marketers alike are asking the same question: where is all of this information about me, and all consumers, really coming from? As we ponder our privacy, the thought of our devices listening to us pops into our head. It's a hard image to shake, but before we lose too much sleep, there’s more to the story.

Even if we understand the technology, most users generally accept that we are being targeted, and retargeted, based on our online interactions. This might happen when ads appear on our social media feeds and across the web after we’ve visited a company’s website. What is not happening is advertisers listening in on private conversations of consumers. Rather, algorithms use information we’ve made available about ourselves to make reasonable assumptions. Machine learning makes all of our deepest, most complex desires kind of... predictable.

So then, what role does “voice listening” actually take in the marketing equation? With so much misinformation, this smartphone “conspiracy theory” brings up real concern, including the privacy of personal information and the effect that marketing has on the behaviors of vulnerable demographics. Here are answers to three of the most important questions about voice listening:

How Does “Voice Listening” Work?

We can now use our voices to command a myriad of gadgets—from home devices to smartphones—via their built-in smart assistants like Siri or Google Assistant. These devices have an always-on, always-listening nature. However, until they hear a very specific “audio trigger,” they remain dormant. These “audio triggers,” like “Hey Siri” or “Alexa,” act as wake words for your device. So while the device is always on, it will only start recording when these specific words or phrases are heard. If a trigger is not heard, voice recordings are only stored as local, temporary data on our devices. 

Are “Voice Recordings” Being Used as Data?

The most successful agencies and brands don’t guess who their consumers are - they follow the data. This information, in part, comes from tracking how consumers use our phones to engage with apps.

Facebook, Google, and other companies have stated they do not use voice listening targeting. Instead, other methods allow them to determine consumer’s locations, friend groups, and interests. There are many ways companies can determine all of this through location sharing tools, apps that store time-stamped location data, weather app check-ins, map direction searches, photo tagging, geotargeting, and more. 

As consumers use multiple services from businesses like Google and Facebook, these companies can track audiences across multiple devices, over time, to understand a consumer's attitudes, beliefs, interests, and needs. This data is then leveraged by marketers, and makes it possible to tap into highly targeted, accurate, yet anonymous consumer information. This way, marketers can better understand consumer behaviors, buying habits, and ultimately, increase sales by delivering advertising that is actually relevant to the end user. 

How Is My Privacy Being Protected?

Audience targeting is meant to match consumers with the right products and services, not to breach our data or invade our privacy. However, in response to consumer demand, companies and legislators are increasing consumer privacy regulations. In 2020, California implemented new laws, and big tech companies ramped up their privacy regulations. For example, Google did away with third party tracking pixels, Twitter announced a new Privacy Center, and Facebook might be breaking up with Instagram and Whatsapp. And, if we are still concerned about the sharing of voice data,  can turn off our phone microphones in apps, disable “Hey Siri,” and remove Facebook permissions for other apps connected to it. 

The Verdict

Are our phones really listening to us? Yes, but not how we think. It’s less that personal information is being nefariously harvested and processed by big data at the expense of our privacy and security, and more of “Hey Siri” answering our questions about the weather.

A more likely explanation is that big companies that collect data have a lot of it. They can determine where we are located and what we are interested in—and that can help marketers get to know us better. They know if we are foodies, Boomers, early-adopters, or tech junkies by analyzing how we connect to, and behave on their platforms. 

It’s not surprising that there would be coincidences between what consumers browse and click on, and what we talk about when our phones are around. Advertisers are not listening to us. Rather, they are using anonymized data to look for behavior and patterns that can be used for targeted advertising.

At the end of the day, an agency's job is to connect potential buyers with products, services, and events. The best agencies know how to do this in a highly targeted way that users will find valuable and relevant. In fact, the best advertising shouldn't feel like advertising at all. Here at Yes&, we use our digital marketing insights to bring campaigns to life and deliver them to the right people, with the right message, and at the right time along the customer journey. Get in contact with us and see what the power of "&" can do for you.

Yes& is the Washington, DC-based marketing agency that brings commercial, association, and government clients the unlimited power of “&” – using a full suite of branding, digital, event, marketing, public relations, and creative capabilities to deliver meaningful and measurable results.

Let’s talk about what the power of "&" can do for you.

Dani Proffitt
Digital Marketing Coordinator